| Public Weather Services (PWS)
Credibility of National Meteorological Services
It is a fact that all National Meteorological Services (NMHSs) are keen to improve their status and enhance their credibility. In fact, some NMHSs have frequently indicated that their status is not sufficiently high to help their further development. At its 13th Congress WMO was tasked with treating the problem with high priority thus underscoring the close linkage between the role and operation of NMHSs on the one hand, and their status and credibility on the other, including the ability to secure financial support.
It would be highly advisable to analyse NMHSs' status and credibility, both actual and perceived, and to improve on the situation. Status of the NMHS is accorded by the nation, the public, the agencies and government, and is granted not by mere virtue of the existence of the NMHS, but earned as a direct result of high levels of NMHS performance. Whereas there is no magic formula to achieve success, and whereas the solution is a combination of many factors, the key element comes from the effective fulfilment of the NMHS mission, through the appropriate provision of relevant products and services to the public and other users.
The provision of readily available public weather services is one of the primary roles of all NMHSs and it is the role in which they are often judged, not only by the general public, but also by those on whose decisions the Service depends. The provision of demonstrably useful and reliable public weather services, tailored to the needs of the national community, represent the country's most visible pay-off for public investment in the NMHS infrastructure and specialist staff. Good quality public weather services enhance the status and credibility of the NMHS and in turn, can have a positive impact on how the organisation is perceived to perform, and can influence matters such as budget allocations.
Some factors which challenge the status and credibility of NMHSs:
The following are some factors that may contribute to the lowering of the status, and diminishing of the credibility of NMHSs:
- The expansion of the international media and weather presentations that cover the territory of the NMHS, and indeed the whole globe;
- Inadequately developed relationships with the national media, resulting in lack of interest by the media, or occasional interest at the time of severe weather;
- The rapid expansion of the Internet, making weather information available from a variety of sources, challenging the authority and credibility of NMHSs;
(The above three factors are dealt with in detail under MEDIA ISSUES)
- Lack of or inadequately developed and implemented public weather services programmes;
- Problems in maintaining high levels of timeliness, accuracy and skill in forecast and warnings; the result is lowered credibility that erodes the NMHS status and credibility;
- Problems in attracting or recruiting and retaining high quality staff; this could be caused by external factors beyond the control of the NMHS;
- The diversity of circumstances existing in individual countries such as the economic framework, legal systems and relevant government policies.
An approach to improving the status and enhancing the credibility of NMHSs
Some of the above-listed factors are not within the competence or ability of the NMHS to influence especially those that affect the availability and level of financial support from government. Governments are always under pressure to address the more immediate needs of the country for water, roads, education and health. With limited resources social needs take on higher priority. There are however, situations where a nation's sensitivity and vulnerability to weather disasters lead naturally to the public and government becoming aware of the role of the NMHS. Under these circumstances, as long as the products and services provided by the NMHS meet the expectations and requirements of the public and other users, status and credibility of the NMHS will increase. Providing good quality public weather services may be the way in which the NMHS can influence decisions on government investment in further improving the infrastructure of the Service.
Major factors in PWS success
The following lists some recommendations for a successful public weather services programme:
- Development of a user focus – This requires addressing topics such as service excellence, service improvement, total quality management and continuous improvement. Products and services provided should be those required by the users and not those that the NMHS believes are required. The users should be aware of the NMHS constraints and capabilities since this knowledge is more likely to lead to realistic expectations of the ability of the NMHS to meet their needs,resulting in increased credibility and status of the Service;
- Communication – The content of the NMHS product must be in a language and the terminology used such that the user can understand it, and benefit from it by taking appropriate action to safeguard life and property. The sensitivity and ability of the NMHS staff in this regard, can be improved by the appropriate training. The results of a 1997 global survey by WMO showed that the most common obstacle encountered in the progress of public weather services programmes was lack of user understanding;
- Service delivery – Effective dissemination and presentation of forecasts, warnings and other public weather roducts is essential to influence the user. Timely delivery to the broad spectrum of users is mainly through the mass media, particularly the electronic media. In addition, the increasing availability of the Internet for accessing wider sources of information and for supplementing the more traditional delivery systems provides new opportunities for NMHSs. Training in media skills and presentation techniques, at least among some staff, can result in a better public image for the NMHS. Developments in science and technology continue to improve weather observations, communication, weather and climate predictions and television weather-casting technology. The NMHS public weather services programme must harness these developments for service delivery;
- Strong media relationships – The key partnership with the media is an extremely important factor in the success of public weather service activities, since such collaboration and partnership will assist the NMHS to get the message out in a timely manner, especially during severe weather. (Guidelines for improved media relationships are dealt with under MEDIA ISSUES);
- NMHS staff training – In NMHSs where the size of the Service does not allow recruiting specialist staff to deal with service delivery issues, the staff should receive training beyond basic meteorological topics so as to develop a more user-oriented attitude. Also, specialist training must be given to meteorologists to allow them to provide the required services, including value-added packaging for special users. Beyond this base, expertise and experience in warning coordination activities should exist among the senior staff;
- NMHS management training – the senior staff and management personnel should receive training in management level issues in public weather services. Managers should also be trained to interact and consult effectively with users in application areas such as transport, agriculture, forestry and construction, since the credibility and credibility of the NMHS is derived from applications areas;
- Public education and awareness – The second objective of the PWS programme is ''to foster better understanding by the public of the capabilities of the NMHS and how best to use those services''. A weather-literate public is much more likely to judge the NMHS performance positively, leading to enhancement of status and credibility. (For more details see PUBLIC EDUCATION AND AWARENESS);
- Coordination and cooperation with all sectors and institutions requiring weather services and who can also facilitate service delivery (e.g. the media), is recommended. Some other examples of these sectors are: the disaster management authorities, schools and academic institutions, the farming community, decision makers, government agencies and the general public;
- Service evaluation – This involves two components, verification and user-based assessment. Verification is the determination of the skill, accuracy and timeliness of products and services. Verification statistics and information will lead to the correction of weaknesses in operations. (For details see VERIFICATION). Feedback from user-based assessment will enable the NMHS to take action with respect to product definition, delivery mechanisms, research and development of products and services.
Society's expectations of the meteorological community have increased over recent decades, and the NMHS is expected to deliver a suite of traditional and new products and services with timeliness, accuracy and quality higher than before. In accepting this challenge, even in the face of reduced resources, the NMHS must find innovative ways to serve the demanding and fastidious public. Importantly, success in performing through an efficient and effective public weather services programme will go a long way in improving the status and enhancing the credibility of the NMHS.
For more information please read "credibility of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) - report on Working Group 3, Subgroup on Regional Aspects of PWS in RA VI" by Elena Cordoneanu.